– Annals of a sentimental foot soldier

by Kazeem Olalekan MRPharmS

01The last meeting of the Southampton Branch of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society was held on the 22nd of April 2010 at the Drug Safety Research Unit (DSRU) located at Blundell Lane in Bursledon, Southampton. The location is symbolic. If as Pharmacists we are not about medicines safety then I guess we are in the wrong profession. Stephen Bleakley, the locality lead pharmacist and training lead registrar of the College of Mental Health Pharmacy at the Royal South Hants Hospital was on hand to deliver a “Mental Health Update” presentation. Again this is symbolic because pharmacists have an important role to play in the management of mental health patients. The mental health strategy for England, released recently (02/02/2011), set out six key objectives – see box A (1). Our new professional body is responding to02 the challenge of up skilling all pharmacists by providing webinars, training materials etc to support pharmacists in delivering the key objectives of the strategy (2,3). As a friend of mine, who has just been appointed the chief pharmacist of a mental health trust, told me recently: “We are all mental health patients, some of us just hide it better than others”. By playing our part in achieving these objectives, we are simply helping ourselves. I will simply employ my colleagues to get involved in anyway possible to achieve the objectives set out in the strategy document.

Box A (from PJ Online)
  1. More people will have good mental health
  2. More people with mental health problems will recover
  3. More people with mental health problems will have good physical health
  4. More people will have a positive experience of care and support
  5. Fewer people will suffer avoidable harm
  6. Fewer people will experience stigma and discrimination


As one door closes another opens

The last meeting of the Southampton Branch was clearly a sad and reflective day for all those who have contributed to making this a successful Branch. That includes current and past committee members and members of the old Royal Pharmaceutical society, who showed their support by giving up their evenings to attend the Branch meetings. The Branch meetings has always been about local networking and opportunity to gain nuggets of knowledge and information to help advance our practice. All committee members of the Branch, by the way, are all volunteers. They give up their time to organise these meetings. It is therefore remarkable that this model has survived for this long (I will touch on this later). The reader should therefore not be too surprised to note that a few of the Branches across the country did not survive to see the last day. Some folded a few years ago because of lack of support at the local level!

When Tim Barlow, the last chair of the Branch, stood up to speak about what will03 replace the old Branch structure, it was time to take note. He described a new configuration which reflect the fundamental change in the way the profession is now structured. At the top, we have a new Royal Pharmaceutical Society, which has relinquished its regulatory powers. At the local level, we have a new Local Practice Forum. Our Local Practice Forum is now called the Wessex (Wessex Local Practice Forum) and it comprises of the following localities:

  • Dorset
  • Hampshire
  • Isle of Wight

The new Practice Forum is chaired by Dr Jane Portlock, Principal Lecturer in Pharmacy Practice at the University of Portsmouth (4). As we call time on the old Southampton Branch, the phoenix that is the Wessex Local Practice Forum is rising from the ashes of the old Branch structure.

There is a snag. The new structure is fundamentally different from the old Branch in one significant way: Funding. Whilst before, when the Royal Pharmaceutical Society was our leadership and regulatory body, every pharmacist has to pay a professional fee if they want to continue to practice as a pharmacist. Now pharmacists are obliged only to pay a fee to the regulatory body (5) if they want to continue to practice. There is no obligation to register with the new leadership body – The new Royal Pharmaceutical Society(RPS) of Great Britain (6). If enough pharmacists opt not to join the new leadership body, then there is a good chance that it will become financially unsustainable and disappear like some of the Branches that disappeared before. Only problem is, this time this will be a catastrophe for the profession that I hope we all cherish. As a sentimental member of the old and successful Southampton Branch, I cannot let that happen. So I have chosen to play my part and I ask my colleagues to do the same: play their part. If this is a big society (with a small “b”), then the success of our new professional body is a reflection of our passion for our profession and the pride we have for it – Not just for our personal gains but for the importance of the role we have to play for the welfare of our patients. And guess what? Our patients are ourselves when we are not at work. A financially secure professional leadership body is not a luxury but a MUST.

Why was Southampton Branch so successful?

I came to Southampton for the first time in 1994. I had to take a year off my pharmacy training between 1994 and 1995 and the pharmacy department at the Royal South Hants Hospital under the dispensary leadership of Elizabeth Bere and Lorraine Perry gave me an opportunity to work as a pharmacy work experience student. This proved to be one of the most important experiences in my young professional life. I was lost after my first two years at University but this experience helped me realise why I was studying pharmacy. What I remember most of all is the leadership. Whenever there is a Branch meeting, you are sure to work with a pharmacist who was going to the meeting. They encourage you to come along. Sometimes they even give you a lift in their cars. These pharmacists led by example. It is not about you need to attend the meeting, it is about we need to attend the meeting.

These pharmacists were also passionate about what they do. They were great leaders. I remember three pharmacists in particular: Debbie Wright (Chair of the Central South Coast Cancer Network) (7), Julie Martin (Head of Healthcare Scientists Education and Acting Head of Allied Health Professionals Education)(8) and Mark Tomlin (Consultant Pharmacist, Critical Care)(9). They were on the top of their games and always willing to share their knowledge and expertise with anyone irrespective of background. It is no coincidence that they have reached the top of their professional pharmacy careers. Their passion for what they do was infectious even to a small, relatively insignificant, student like myself. There were a lot more leaders of course but these were just the tip of the iceberg. The quality of pharmacy clinical leadership was at the heart of the success of the Southampton Branch.

There was another type of leadership. The type shown by Sue Carter (CPPE Tutor) and Mike Bland (FRPharmS). These two pharmacist deserve a gold star in my humble opinion. As far as I can remember, they have been ever present. I doubt if the Southampton Branch would have survived without them. Between them they held different posts from Chairman, to treasurer, to secretary. They remain active until the very last day! They are pledging their support to new body in any way they can. The return of Tim Barlow, who had a stint as the chairman of the Branch a while back, to chair the transitional arrangement are testament to the passion they have for our great profession. I repeat: these were voluntary roles.

I will of course, like to reserve my personal thank to the committee officers of the Southampton Branch that oversaw the successful transition to the Wessex Practice Forum (I was of course a member of that committee) – box B.

Box B – Southampton Branch 2009-2010
Branch Officers
Tim Barlow MRPharmS – Chairman
Phil Bruce-Tagoe MRPharmS – Vice Chairman
Sue Carter MRPharmS – Secretary
Mike Bland FRPharmS – Treasurer
Jagjiwan Khela – Public Relation
Committee Members
Lynette Hutchinson MRPharmS
Janet Beith MRPharmS
Dr Phil Bates MRPharmS
Kazeem Olalekan MRPharmS
Katerina Mesmer MRPharmS
Dr Debbie Layton MRPharmS
Laween Saadi MRPharmS



Pictured L-R: Tim Barlow (Chairman), Lynette Hutchinson, Dr Phil Bates, Phil Bruce-Tagoe (Vice Chairman), Janet Beith, Mike Bland FRPharmS (Treasurer), Kazeem Olalekan

What was my role?

In February 2008, under the chairmanship of my friend Jaggy Khela (10), I was able to make a presentation to the Southampton Branch about what I consider to be an important project I was leading. The presentation was title “MUR Evangelist – a unique presentation by pharmacists to pharmacists”. You can watch the feedback to that presentation below:

The efforts of all the pharmacists that preceded me, made it possible to make that presentation to my peers. Without them, there would have been no presentation. So I figured I had to do my bit to ensure the success and longevity of the Branch. My first action was to join the committee and I offered my service voluntarily. I brought with me some skill set which I deployed to successful effect. I designed and maintained the website for the Branch. As a committee member, I was responsible for organising meetings. With the help of Katerina Mesmer (now Havlova) (11), we organised a successful meeting on Antibiotics: The Perfect Storm (12). Dr Kieran Hand delivered a great presentation and my bookapharmacist.com outfit even co-sponsor the event with Pfizer.

As you can see, I am playing my part and I think you should play yours as well. One way of playing your part is to try and attend as many of these meetings as you can and most importantly; you need to join the professional leadership body. It is your choice and you can choose not to. I will continue to play my part in the new professional leadership body and the new Local Pharmacy Forum. As a pharmacist, I run this bookapharmacist.com business and as a show of support for the leadership body, I will only engage with pharmacists who choose to be part of the leadership body. I will explain why:

The rationale for this is simple: I do not want to see my profession disintegrate. I also have a strong message to the leadership of the new professional body: Please do not take my support for granted. If I ask a pharmacist to join the new leadership body, I expect that they are led professionally and with great role models. I expect their anxieties and concerns to be addressed in the right ways and I expect that their subscription payments are spent on important things that advance the professional direction of pharmacy and that of my patients. I don’t just expect these, I demand them! I want everyone who is part of the leadership apparatus to be great role models and leaders. To all the pharmacists who choose to work with me, I ask that you engage with the profession. If you are not sure how, please feel free to drop me a line.

Why should I join the new professional body?

In the light of my enthusiasm for this subject, I had a conversation with Hayley Harvey on whether she will join the new professional body. She stated as a matter of fact: “I cannot see what the new professional body can offer me”. She went on to ask “Why should I join?”. I found myself unable to answer her. I took five, had a think and replied as follows:

You have your professional life ahead of you, where do you wish to go with it? When you have a satisfactory answer to that question, go to your professional body and demand that they guide you on how to get there. Then she said: “Then I don’t have to join until I have decided what I want to do in my professional life”. I smiled and replied as follows: When you do decide to join, there may not be a professional body there to join!

By the way, Hayley Harvey is a hospital pre-registration pharmacist, who I knew way back when she was a Saturday counter assistant in a pharmacy I used to manage. What Hayley expressed so sincerely, is the same thing I hear from a lot of pharmacists I speak to.

It is befitting therefore to end this by paraphrasing this sometime overused quote:

Ask not what your profession can do for you, ask what you can do for your profession

On May the 6th 2010, I was very moved by this interview given by Mr Frank Bruno to the Today program in which he describe his battle with bi-polar disease: link.

I ain’t got no right to judge someone
– Frank Bruno

05  06

NB: As committee members of the new Wessex LPF,  Katherina Havlova and myself has been tasked with organising the first of many events of the new LPF. It is titled: Technologies at your finger tips. I encourage every pharmacist in the Southampton and New Forest area of the Wessex Local Practice Forum to attend this showcase event. (link).

  1. Very interesting read and very apt prose to describe the future where the bottom line is we must make a choice… do we want to be part of the health service or run alongside it. If it’s the former then we need a good, strong, viable professional body, if the latter then you could be in the wrong profession!

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